Cultural anthropology is the study of culture, past and present, from a worldwide comparative perspective. As a disciplinary field, cultural anthropology attempts to provide insights on how human beings across the globe live and work and shape their cultural world in families, cities, societies, ethnic groups, nations, and networked solidarities through ideas, ideologies, beliefs, and values or world views. One of the goals of cultural anthropology is to promote understanding among peoples—an increasingly important venture in our vastly interconnected world communities.
Notes about this immersion:
This immersion is closed to students majoring in the sociology and anthropology who have chosen the cultural anthropology track.
Students are required to complete at least one course at the 300-level or above as part of the immersion.
Language has a crucial role in our lives as a functional system of human communication. Language is central to our cultures and societies. This course provides an introduction to the field of linguistics. It considers both how language is described and analyzed by linguists and how evidence from language can shed light on a variety of social, cultural, and cognitive phenomena. The course provides an orientation both to human language and the field of linguistics. It introduces the languages of the world, how languages have been described, the diversity in language structure, the issue of language endangerment and death, and the efforts to document and preserve the world’s languages, among other topics.
Ethnographic Imagination: Wrtg about Society and Culture
Culture and Globalization
By exploring critical issues of globalizing culture, we examine how ideas, attitudes, and values are exchanged or transmitted across conventional borders. How has the production, articulation, and dissemination of cultural forms (images, languages, practices, beliefs) been shaped by global capitalism, media industries, communication technologies, migration, and tourist travels? How are cultural imaginaries forged, exchanged, and circulated among a global consumer public? How has the internationalizing of news, computer technologies, video-sharing websites, blogging sites, and other permutations of instant messaging served to accelerate cultural globalization? Students will be introduced to anthropological perspectives on cultural globalization, the transmission of culture globally, and the subsequent effects on social worlds, peoples, communities, and nations.
Language and Culture: Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology
Language is a core element of culture, both as a repository of meaning, and also because it is the primary means through which humans carry out social relationships, share ideas, and contest received understandings. Linguistic anthropology investigates this interplay between language and culture. Topics will vary by semester, and may include metaphor and narrative; language acquisition in relationship to childhood socialization; language, thought, and worldview; language and identity; multilingualism; the social contexts of language change; literacy; and the politics of language use and language ideologies.
This course introduces students to processes of interconnection, local, regional, national, and global, that have altered and continue to impact life in Africa, taking into account the enormous impact of Africans on one another and on those of us living outside of the continent. In the course, we will focus on how past, present, and anticipated future events in African movements of people, ideas, and things, across time and space effect the reception of new events. We will pay particularly close attention to how the relationships of time and space are formulated and understood by Africans in the present. While the historical past is never completed, but continuous in the present, its diverse contours lead to differently remembered, embodied, and enacted expressions. We will evaluate these diverse expressions in pre-colonial, colonial, and neo-colonial encounters as they have changed ideas of self and other, political philosophies and political economic systems, genders and sexualities, generational relations, religions, expressive arts, violence, and health on the African continent and around the globe.
Immigration to the U.S.
This course examines immigration to the U.S. within the context of globalization. We examine the push- and pull-factors that generate immigration, and changing immigration policies and debates. We consider how changes in the American workplace have stimulated the demand for foreign workers in a wide range of occupations, from software engineer to migrant farmworker and nanny. We review the cultural and emotional challenges of adapting within the American cultural landscape, transnationalism and connections with the homeland, the experiences of refugees, and how immigration has changed since 9/11. Special attention is given to immigration from Latin America, the largest sending region.
Ritual and Performance
The world’s cultural diversity is most vividly and dynamically displayed through ritual and festival. Ritual is anything but superfluous; rather, some of the most important work of culture is accomplished through the performance of ritual. Through cross-cultural comparison, by way of readings and films, we explore the following dimensions of ritual: symbols, embodiment, emotion, discipline, contestation of tradition and authenticity, and the orchestration of birth, childhood socialization, gender, maturation, marriage, community, hierarchy, world renewal, and death. Written expression is enhanced through drafting, revision, and peer review.
Native North Americans
This course examines the persistence and change in Native American cultures using archaeological, ethnohistorical, socioeconomic, ethnographic, linguistic, and autobiographical sources among others. In addition to broad regional and historical coverage, we will read about and discuss culture change, colonialism, federal law, gender, race, and places in Native American contexts. Our goal is to understand the lived experiences of Indian people and the many forces that shape Native American lives.
Native Americans in Film
This course will examine the parallels of anthropological works and resulting government policies in the late-19th and 20th centuries as they relate to the genre of Native Americans film, both popular and ethnographic works. In addition, an extensive regional and historical literature review will complement the possible films.
Cuisine, Culture, and Power
This course examines the spread of Islam beyond its origins in the Middle East, and the cultural and social clashes, but also the mutual adjustments that have followed. This course explores core tenets of Islam, but also how its practices and beliefs are altered as practitioners in different countries alternately adopt, co-opt, massage, react to, and reject elements in accordance with the meaningful social, cultural, and political lives they build for themselves. The compatibility of Islam with Western society is often debated in contemporary public discourse. This debate is typically marked by an assumption that Islamic beliefs clash with Western secular democratic ideals, an assumption which results in tensions over mosque building, headscarves, and other public signs of Islamic faith. We will explore the diverse ways of being Muslim from a cross-cultural perspective and the sometimes-challenging negotiation of fulfilling these religious tenets while living in Muslim-minority places.
The global economy has demonstrated extraordinary power in gathering resources from and distributing goods to the farthest reaches of the globe. At the same time there is an increase in inequality and in the numbers of poor and hungry, often associated with environmental degradation. These changes are especially obvious in cities, but not limited to them. Since 1987 there has been a concerted effort by the United Nations, as well as by non-governmental organizations, individuals, and some nation-states to explore paths of more sustainable development. This course explores varied strategies now employed to achieve sustainable development, with particular attention to less developed countries.
American Indian Languages
With a focus on the indigenous languages of the Americas, we explore language contact among peoples, study various writing systems, and the sociolinguistic and cultural contexts in which these languages are spoken. Students learn how indigenous languages have been studied and classified. In addition to providing an overview of the languages' structural and typological attributes, we will also discover their histories as well as present-day challenges.
Language and Sexuality
In exploring the relationships between language and sexuality, we investigate the language used by members of sexual minority groups, discuss how sexual orientation shapes language use, and examine the role of language in the social construction of sexual identity. We will focus on several aspects of the language used by and about gay men, lesbians, and bisexual and transgendered people.
Social and Cultural Theory
Comparative and Historical Linguistics
All languages change through time, but how do they change? Where do these changes come from? In exploring traditional and contemporary approaches to historical linguistics, the study of language change, we compare different languages, different dialects of the same language, or different historical stages of a particular language, and investigate the history of languages and also language groups (or families). We investigate hypotheses about the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation of languages long dead, and we explore how languages can give us insights to understanding human prehistory.
African Film and Popular Culture
Popular culture has a political dimension. Created and consumed by ordinary people, African popular cultures, including film and popular cinema, are linked to political processes as forms of expression, perspective, and critique. As a result of accessible digital formats for producing and distributing films and other popular genres, African film and cinema is literally exploding onto the global scene, dynamically affecting intercultural communication and African economies. Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, for instance, is now the third largest film producer in the world, competing with Hollywood and Bollywood for audiences and market share. This course introduces students to African film as a genre of popular culture and explores the political contexts in which it is forged. Throughout the semester, we consider the diversity and complexity of African film as a creative genre and engage in debates about forms of intercultural communication that challenge contemporary African artists and consumers. By the end of the course, students will have gained an understanding of the enormous impact of popular cultures through which many Africans express political sentiments that might otherwise be suppressed.
Bodies and Culture
Our bodies are more than mere physical entities; they are conditioned by culture, society, and history. We will take a comparative approach to the cultural construction of bodies and the impact of ethnic, gender, and racial ideologies on body practices (i.e. surgical alteration, mutilation, beautification, surrogacy, erotica). We will critically investigate the global formation of normative discourses of the body (regarding sexuality, AIDS/illness, reproduction, fat/food) in medical science, consumer culture, and the mass media. The course features discussion, writing, and project-oriented research, encouraging students to acquire a range of analytic skills through a combination of text interpretation and research.
Heritage and Tourism
Tourism is a global industry and an important part of the human experience. There are many forces within tourism that act upon people’s lives, and in particular their environments, economies, cultural heritage, and identity. This course will explore tourism and its many dimensions. Beginning with an examination of kinds of tourism, this course unpacks tourism’s ancient trade and pilgrimage roots as well as its class dynamics of post-industrialization. Other aspects of tourism to be explored include strategies and effects of tourism development and production, nationalism and cultural identity, commoditization and marketing of culture and the ethics of development, labor and infrastructural changes, social inequalities, ecological impact, sustainable tourism, the experience of tourists, ritual and authenticity, and the relationship between tourists and tourism workers. This course provides opportunities for cross-cultural analysis of tourism sites, for participant-observation of the tourist experience, and for evaluation and recommendation of tourism site development in and around Rochester.
Cultural Images of War and Terror
This course critically examines the visual culture of war and terror in a global world from an anthropological perspective. Representations of violence are endlessly transmitted on television, on the internet, in print media, in cinema, and in recreational games to become part of our everyday visual culture. Whether disseminated as news, documentary truth, or entertainment, the ubiquitous encounters with images of violence require a new form of visual literacy that not only highlights the intersection of the local and the global, but also recognizes the ways in which visual technologies, cultural politics of memory and history, media practices, and national ideologies intervene in the formation of a visual culture of war and terror.
Culture and Politics in Latin America
This course introduces cultures of Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean in the context of political and economic forces that have shaped them. We examine Spanish and Portuguese colonialism and its modern-day legacies, including ethnic inequalities, economic vulnerability, and social unrest. We look at how art, music, and literature have engaged critically with the forces of fascism, revolution, socialism, dictatorship, and neo-colonialism. We consider indigenous activism, religious diversity, changing experiences and expectations of women and men, rebellion and revolution, impacts of and creative responses to globalization, and Latinos in the U.S.
Genocide and Post-Conflict Justice
The destruction and survival of societies often hinges upon the ideas and the social, cultural constructions of identity and belonging. When ideas fail to incorporate people, essentialist categories of identity, historical memory, and accounts of extreme violence become interrelated, potent sources of destruction. Slavery and exclusive ownership of resources leave people starving or living in perilously polluted environments. Globalizing cultural economies threaten local systems and self-representation. Group identities may be sites of crises within nation-states and global political, economic, and cultural processes. In this course, we will take critical, anthropological approaches to studies of ethnocide, genocide, and post-conflict justice. Students will use critical, anthropological approaches to assess ethnocides and genocides from the 19th century forced assimilation and slaughter of Native Americans and Amazonian Indians to more recent genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and the Sudan, to understand the impact of globalization on techniques and technologies of genocides, the legal, moral/personal responsibility for genocides, media representations of genocides, and the affects of cultural, historical memory and social, global inequities upon future genocides. Students will use anthropological perspectives on genocide to assess post-conflict concepts of justice, reconstruction and reconciliation and local-global debates about their cultural resonance and effectiveness.
The Global Economy and the Grassroots
Economic globalization has given birth to global grassroots social movements. This course examines how global economic integration is brought about through multilateral institutions, multinational corporations, outsourcing, trade agreements, international lending, and neoliberal reforms. We consider impacts (cultural, economic, and health) of these trends on employees, farmers, small businesses, consumers, and the environment in the developed and developing worlds (with special emphasis on Latin America). We examine beliefs, alternative visions, and strategies of grassroots movements responding to these challenges.
Culture and Politics in the Middle East
With a focus on everyday life in families, communities, and nations, we examine the diverse cultures and peoples of the Middle East in the context of political and economic forces that have shaped their lives in the past and present. We examine European colonialism and its modern-day legacies, including ethnic inequalities, economic vulnerability, labor migration, urbanism, and social unrest. We look at how art, music, oral traditions, and literatures have engaged critically with the forces of political change and neo-colonialism. We consider political activism, religious diversity, changing experiences and expectations of women and men, rebellion, revolution, and war, and the impacts of and creative responses to globalization. The cultural, political, social, and religious dynamics of Middle Eastern peoples will be discussed from a humanistic perspective.
Media and Globalization
The cultural importance of mass media has undergone tremendous growth in the context of globalization. Analysis of the global flows of media images across national borders emphasizes the cultural, social, and political impact of global media culture on communities in different parts of the world. How, for example, do mass media represent or shape cultural values and beliefs in developing societies? What is the role of mass media in forging national and ethnic identities, body images, cultural constructs of sexuality and gender, and the perceptions of war and violence in different societies?
Native American Cultural Resources and Rights
Indian nations have substantial interests in access to and control of their cultural resources. In addition to land, those resources may include objects, traditions, and symbols. Many of those interests may be treated under tribal, federal, and/or international law as forms of property (including access to sacred sites, possession of funerary objects, masks), intangible resources (such as intellectual property of tribal names, symbols, stories), and/or liberty interests (including religious freedom, preservation of tribal languages, customs, Indian arts and crafts). Classroom lectures will be supplemented with roundtable discussions and instructions by museum professionals, guest speakers, and Native American representatives. At the conclusion of the course, students will comprehend the breadth of federal legislation regulating tribal cultural resources as well as the complex legal and social issues facing museums, academic institutions, and the community.
Nationalism and Identity
Nationalism is often described in terms of strong sentiments and acts of self-determination on the part of members of a nation as distinct from the state that is necessarily a territorially and politically defined entity. This course will explore leading theories related to the origins of contemporary nationalism and nationalism's importance within the context of state societies, especially in Europe. The past as an invented historical or imagined reality will be highlighted, as invented pasts contribute to claims for exclusive national culture and both exclusive and contested identities. The relationships between culture, literacy, and capitalism will be applied to understanding select historical and ethnographic cases of nationalism.
Anthropology and History
The relationship between anthropology and history is not always self-evident due to cultural anthropology being focused largely on living peoples and cultures and history’s focus on the past, yet the two share similarities of method and theory. We utilize the careful analysis of select texts serves to raise critical questions concerning the theoretical and methodological similarities and differences between the two disciplines as well as the potential contributions of anthropology and history to critical scholarship and writing.
This course will provide a critical analysis and historical overview of the Marxist tradition in anthropology and sociology. Special attention will be given to comparing the various Marxist schools as well as outlining the neo-Marxist project and its importance for a cultural refiguration of Marxist perspectives in the social sciences.
This course examines the impact of global dynamics on cities from the early 20th century to the present. By tracing urban formations from metropolis to global city, emphasis will be placed on the making of identities, communities, and citizens in the architectural spaces, cultural places, ethnic zones, and media traces of urban life in the context of globalization.
By exploring issues of gender and sexuality in a global context, students will be introduced to anthropological perspectives on the experience of men and women, as gendered subjects, in different societies and historical contexts, including colonialism, nationalism, and global capitalism. In turn, we will explore how cultural constructions of masculinity and femininity are configured by race, class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Course materials are drawn from an array of sources, reflecting various theoretical perspectives and ethnographic views from different parts of the world.
We see others as we imagine them to be, in terms of our values, not as they see themselves. This course examines ways in which we understand and represent the reality of others through visual media, across the boundaries of culture, gender, and race. It considers how and why visual media can be used to represent or to distort the world around us. Pictorial media, in particular ethnographic film and photography, are analyzed to document the ways in which indigenous and native peoples in different parts of the world have been represented and imagined by anthropologists and western popular culture.
Topics in Anthropology
This topics course focuses on specific themes or issues in anthropology, chosen by the instructor, vetted by the department chair, announced in the course subtitle on SIS, and developed in the syllabus. The topics of this course will vary, but the course number will remain the same. Students may not repeat the same topic.
Economics of Women and the Family
Economics of Native America
Culture and Politics in Urban Africa
With a focus on African societies, we examine the diverse cultures of African peoples in the context of political and economic forces that have shaped their lives in the past and the present. Topics include European colonialism and its modern-day legacies, ethnic inequalities, economic vulnerability, labor migration, urbanism, and social unrest. We look at how art, music, oral traditions, and literatures have engaged critically with the forces of political change and neo-colonialism. We consider political activism, religious diversity, changing experiences and expectations of women and men, rebellion and revolution, impacts of and creative responses to globalization, and cultural transformations of African diasporas in the U.S and elsewhere.
* At least one course must be taken at the 300-level or above.